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How Long To Cold Plunge For Maximum Benefits

There's been a lot of noise surrounding the concept and benefits that come with taking a cold plunge. And, the noise is not dying down anytime soon, especially on social media. So is the noise a passing buzz or is there more to the idea of immersing yourself in cold water?

The majority of the individuals who have tried taking a dip in a cold plunge can't keep quiet about the positive effect it has on helping with post-workout recovery, easing muscle soreness, improving their mood, and increasing mental alertness.

A cold plunge is not only limited to fitness enthusiasts looking for an alternative way to reduce inflammation, it also helps improve mental health by triggering the release of endorphins (feel-good hormones), almost like chocolate but minus the calories. Your mental clarity level may improve, and the immune system is boosted leading to improved overall health and well-being.

It's more than plunging yourself in water, the water has to be an ideal temperature, and some tips and aspects have to be factored in to ensure you get the full benefits and positive effects of the whole process. One key aspect we shall be analyzing in this article is, "How long to cold plunge?"

Let's dive into the freezing waters of a cold plunge!

Determining the Optimal Cold Plunge Duration

The cold hard truth is that, to get the maximum benefits and be invigorated from a cold plunge you have to aim for a few seconds in the plunge. As cold as the water might be, you have to build your tolerance levels to enable your body dip to last a few minutes.

Establishing Baseline Tolerance

In as much as building your tolerance is key when it comes to a cold plunge, understanding your body's capabilities is also important. People are built differently, and how each tolerates cold temperatures is varied.

As a beginner, you can build up your cold plunge exposure time by starting with a short cold shower or taking a quick plunge that can last for at least 30 seconds. As your tolerance builds you can transition into 2-3 minute dips where you submerge yourself to your neck.

Pace yourself and always stay within the recommended duration range even once you acclimatize and become a pro in cold water therapy.

Tips to Help Determine Beginners' Baseline Tolerance

Some individuals are generally comfortable with cold weather and handle dipping body temperature like champs, others are not, and depending on where you fall on this spectrum you'll be able to determine your threshold for cold water.

Individuals comfortable with cold or icy water have an easier time adapting to ice baths. As a first-timer immersing yourself in the world of cold water therapy, you can determine your tolerance level by taking a dip in a cold plunge tub / pool or taking a cold shower.

An example of at-home cold plunges that you can add to your home gym is the Ice barrel. You can learn more about it in this review we did: In-Depth Comparison of Ice Barrel Cold Plunges.

Below are some tips you can apply to help ease yourself into ice water therapy at home:

  • Consult a qualified healthcare professional to rule out any concerns with pre-existing health issues
  • Start with short dips and exposure giving your body time to acclimatize to the cold water, then gradually increase immersion time
  • You can also alternate between warm and cold water by taking a warm shower and then taking a quick dip in the cold plunge
  • Pay attention to your body signals. Any time you feel uncomfortable or in pain you should take a step back from the cold plunge and give your body time to recover
  • Opt for a plunge in a controlled environment like a cold plunge tub or a water body with clear clean water
  • To take your mind off the cold water listen to your favorite music or focus on visualizing yourself in a different place
  • Hydrate before and after cold water immersion to replace lost fluids due to an increased metabolic rate. Avoid alcohol or caffeine as these can lead to more dehydration
  • Practice and focus on your breathing during a cold plunge to reduce anxiety and initial shock of your body’s nervous system getting into contact with cold water
  • Once you are done with the plunge warm up by wearing warm clothes or wrapping up yourself in a blanket to help your body's temperature re-adjust

    Understanding the Science of Cold Plunge Therapy

    Cold plunge is also referred to as cryotherapy. People are steadily moving towards unconventional and alternative options to help them achieve optimum health and immersing oneself in a cold plunge is one of them.

    The immersion process triggers different reactions and physiological changes to help the body maintain its natural temperature and preserve energy. Some of these changes alter blood flow by constricting your blood vessels leading to reduced inflammation while others can cause an increase in your metabolism rate, linked to weight loss. 

    Determining How Long to Cold Plunge

    The benefits of cold plunges [1] vary and are dependent on the immersion durations. For instance, if your goal is to improve circulation you can opt for a shorter cold water immersion duration as opposed to a longer duration.

    Short Duration (1-3 minutes)

    For a beginner, a short duration in the cold plunge is considered ideal and a good idea as it is enough to provide some benefits and give your body time to acclimatize to longer immersions. 2-3 minutes of cold immersion seems to be the sweet spot, especially when starting out. Some of the benefits of a short-duration plunge are:

    • Improved muscle recovery and reduction of soreness in athletes [2] or fitness enthusiasts
    • Improves circulation and flow of blood
    • Strengthens and boosts your immune system
    • Improves mental well-being
    • Reduces inflammation

      Moderate Duration (4-6 minutes)

      A moderate duration cold plunge session is the next step for someone whose body has acclimatized to cold water temperatures hence transitioning to a slightly longer immersion period. It is recommended for individuals who have built their tolerance levels by figuring out how to extend [3] their cold exposure duration. Some of the benefits of a moderate length cold plunge are:

      • Reduces inflammation and muscle soreness
      • Triggers a higher metabolic rate leading to an increased caloric burn
      • Triggers the release of endorphins contributing to a better and uplifted mood
      • Improves sleep quality

        Extended Duration (7+ minutes)

        Extended duration in a cold plunge is dependent on the temperature range of the water. If the water has a cold temperature, then opt for a shorter duration. But, if the temperature is milder and your body has adapted to cold exposure, you can plunge for a longer period. One of the benefits of a longer immersion is achieving deeper relaxation.

        Overindulging in something beyond the recommended capacity regardless of its benefits can be harmful and dangerous. Everything has a limit, and so does cold plunging. Overexposure to cold water for an extended period can put you at risk of hypothermia and other health concerns.

        According to Dr. Tracy Zaslow, a sports physician, "Building your tolerance to cold water should be slow and gradual. Ideally, start your sessions with a few minutes and increase the duration steadily allowing your body to acclimatize."

        Safety Precautions and Tips For Beginners

        As with everything new you're venturing into, caution must be exercised. With a cold plunge, starting slowly and gradually is something to keep in mind amongst other tips one must adhere to during and before immersion. 

        Before cold plunging, it is important to ensure you have no underlying health conditions. Start with short sessions and gradually increase your exposure time.

        Safety Precautions to Avoid Cold Plunge Risks

        Failure to observe safety precautions can lead to injuries, an increase in high blood pressure, or medical conditions like hypothermia as well as the risk of getting frostbite due to overexposure to cold temperatures.

        Below, we have highlighted some steps to observe to ensure your safety during a cold water immersion. They are:

        • Consult a healthcare provider before taking the plunge
        • Start the cold water therapy slowly and gradually
        • Understand your tolerance level and your body's limit during immersion
        • Avoid jumping into cold plunge pools, this can be harmful as it can lead to hyperventilation due to a spiked heart rate from the shock of the cold water 
        • Cold water therapy can be dehydrating, therefore take enough water to stay hydrated before and after plunging
        • While staying hydrated avoid reaching for alcohol or caffeine as these beverages work against the aim and purpose of a cold bath

          An article on the University of Portsmouth [4] website provides additional safety guidelines and measures.

           

          Common Mistakes to Avoid During a Cold Plunge

          As a beginner, you are likely to make mistakes when getting started with cold water therapy. To avoid some of these mistakes, you should do proper research and learn from individuals with more experience and practice with cryotherapy. Some common mistakes to avoid are:

          • Staying too long in the cold plunge, ideally, you should opt for shorter durations that can range from a minute or two
          • Not allowing your body to gradually acclimatize to the cold water
          • Not hydrating adequately before and after immersion
          • Failure to have a proper plan that covers the before and after the plunge

            Tailoring Cold Plunge Duration for Specific Benefits

            You can tailor your cold immersion duration to meet your specific needs. For instance, elite athletes or individuals who take part in intense workouts will opt for moderate plunges to provide muscle relief and aid with post-workout recovery.

            Targeting Specific Cold Plunge Benefits

            When getting into cold plunging everyone is after a specific need. With reference to the above duration ranges you can identify your preferred immersion session and work with it to get your desired benefits.

            For instance, if your goal is to accelerate and improve blood circulation you can opt for the short duration, and if you want to lose and manage weight, you can go with the moderate (4-6 minutes) immersion.

            Cold Plunge Case Studies 

            A journal published in the International Journal of Circumpolar Health [5] website, highlights over 100 case studies carried out to help determine the effects of voluntary cold water immersion. The studies were able to demonstrate a significant effect on the health of the subjects involved.

            Conclusion

            Through your journey of figuring out your ideal cold plunge duration, it's important to remember that your safety is key and the amount of time you spend in the plunge should be a duration that will not expose you to other ice water-related risks.

            Acclimatizing your body to a cold plunge is a gradual process, and is based on an individual's tolerance level. To reap the full benefits of a cold plunge, prepare yourself well, follow the steps we have highlighted to help you get started on the right foot, adhere to the safety precautions, and pick an immersion duration that is ideal for you and your needs.

             

            References 

            [1] Health effects of voluntary exposure to cold water – a continuing subject of debate - PMC; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9518606/

            [2]Post-exercise ice water immersion - Is it a form of active recovery - PMC; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2938508/ 

            [3] How to survive your first ice bath or cold plunge - YouTube; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1wvZ9a6j1Pk

            [4] Cold water therapy - what are the benefits and dangers of ice baths, wild swimming, and freezing showers - University of Portsmouth; https://www.port.ac.uk/news-events-and-blogs/blogs/health-and-wellbeing/cold-water-therapy-what-are-the-benefits-and-dangers-of-ice-baths-wild-swimming-and-freezing-showers  

            [5] International Journal of Circumpolar Health; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9518606/#cit0002 

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            About the Author: Joe Serrao, Owner of Strength Warehouse

            Joe leverages over 20 years of intense workout experience and six years in the fitness industry. As a former collegiate football player, Joe knows what it takes to stay in peak physical condition. He's dedicated to providing straightforward, expert advice on setting up home gyms, personal training spaces, and commercial facilities. Balancing his passion for fitness with being a devoted family man, Joe’s rigorous full-body and metcon workouts exemplify his commitment to staying strong and being a role model for his kids and customers alike.

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